Who is England’s first-choice spinner? Based on England’s selections in the past year, there can only be one answer: Dom Bess, the lone spinner selected in all eight of England’s Test matches in 2020. But who is being used like they are England’s first-choice spinner in Sri Lanka? This answer is a little more complicated. Over the first three days of the opening Test in Galle, Jack Leach has bowled 37 overs to Bess’s 23.1. His control of line and length has been appreciably better, he has drawn false shots far more frequently and he has simply looked much more threatening. CricViz’s 'Expected Wickets' model, which attempts to quantify a bowler’s true worth in a similar way to the 'Expected Goals' method in football, gauges that Leach’s bowling performance so far would typically be expected to claim 3.97 wickets, compared to Bess’s 1.95. Even Bess looked embarrassed by his burgled first innings five-fer, like a student awarded a starred first just for making it to the exam room on time. Before this series, Leach said that he had never quite bowled at his best in an England shirt, even when taking 18 wickets in Sri Lanka in 2018. He does not yet have cause to reassess that opinion, yet he has already undemonstratively provided a reminder of his qualities: his ability to pound away on a probing line and length, trusting in the pitch to do the rest. On pitches that offer turn, such an unobtrusive approach tends to be the most effective. “I tried to keep things as simple as possible and know that on those wickets almost less is more, I guess - putting the ball in the right area over and over,” Leach reflected of his last Sri Lankan Test sojourn. On the third day in Galle, Leach bowled shorter than at his best, explaining that when he tried to bowl quicker he dragged down his length. But his superior control of line and length still explained why, even with Sri Lanka’s left-handed opening pair batted together unbroken until the 38th over - and off spinners generally more effective to left-handers - Leach was preferred by Joe Root. While 32 per cent of Leach’s deliveries were on a good line and length, according to CricViz, just 18 per cent of Bess’s deliveries were. He was by turns too short and too full, unable, or unwilling, to make good on Leach’s mantra for bowling in Sri Lanka: the importance of locating the same line and length, time after time. To see Leach deployed more than Leach by his captain merely replicated how the two have been used for Somerset. Even after Bess’s England debut in 2018, Leach was always the club’s number one spinner - which meant Bess was playing for the second XI merely weeks after playing Test cricket. If it was a bizarre situation, reminiscent of when Jos Buttler and Craig Kieswetter vied to be first choice wicketkeeper for England and Somerset alike, Bess could not really complain about his status. In all first-class cricket for Somerset, Bess has taken 79 wickets at an average of 27.3, Leach 225 wickets at 23.8. Since 2018, the duo have played seven Somerset games together, during which Leach has taken 38 wickets at 14 apiece, Bess 17 at 27.4 each. Recognising that he needed to bowl more in county cricket for his development, and how Leach is safely ensconced as Somerset’s number one spinner, Bess has just moved to Yorkshire. He had to find a way around Leach, because he could not find one through him. All of this makes the pair’s status for England in Test cricket a puzzle. Both are playing in their 11th Test matches, but - even buttressed by Sri Lanka’s first innings generosity - Bess still has a significantly less impressive record. While his 24 wickets have come at 34.6 apiece, Leach’s 36 scalps have come at a cost of 30.8 each. Of course, such a comparison is not complete. Aged 23, Bess is six years younger than Leach. He is also a far better batsman; his output from number eight is a boon given England’s recent lack of lower-order runs. He has already demonstrated a character that has a penchant for the fight in Test cricket. While Leach excelled in Sri Lanka three years ago, Bess has endured unresponsive wickets in his Tests: this is the first time he has played on a pitch offering appreciable turn. He can expect another five during England’s winter Tests. That should allow Bess to learn and grow, and become more accustomed to the responsibilities and pressures that come with being expected to win England Test matches, rather than simply act as an auxiliary to the seam attack. But the six consecutive subcontinental Tests will also make comparisons between the two spinners unavoidable. While Bess has described himself as learning on the job, Leach’s education as a spin bowler is far nearer to being complete. Whoever can gain Root’s trust in the weeks ahead will be best-placed to retain their spots when there is only room for one England spinner again.